Archive for the ‘students’ Category

Dear Dr. Al,I’m concerned for/about my 16 year old daughter. It seems there
are a multitude of things swirling around her spirit lately…none of them
allowing her to move from this cloud.She is almost 17 and in her second semester of her junior year.
She is also on the track team and she is the track captain. She also lost her
father to cancer 2 years ago. I believe her pain about this is surfacing and
is mixed in with all of the above.

It is my opinion her health is starting to show signs of all
this stress. We have been to the Dr. twice in 2 months. She is having difficulty
with pain when she breathes. This could be/is related to her running track.
Her chest muscles seemed to be inflamed near the sternum. Her last track
meet, she was unable to run all her events, due to this issue. She called me

Most of all I have noticed my ALIVE, VIBRANT, ENERGETIC daughter
succumb to a tired, worried, stressed 17 year old. I see more stress than
smiles. I am there for her 24/7, but understand she may not even be able to
sort all this out. My conversations with her end in…”I’m just tired
mom”…I do believe she is as very worried about the condition of her
breathing as am I.

Just need some guidance as a mom so I can support her through
this. She deserves it.


Dear Mom,

This response may be a bit longer than either you or I anticipated.  I will start with the end point. Then I will list some of the concerns you shared and address each briefly.

  1. You mentioned that “she deserves it.”  I have no doubt that she does, and that is part of reason for your concern.
  2. She is 16 and a junior in high school.  Do you remember you at 16 and a junior in high school?  Do you recall your emotional roller-coasters – your ups, your downs,  your crying for what seemed to be no reason at all, your parents who did not
    understand, your cliques at school (those who liked you, those who hated you and those you disliked?  Your daughter
    is right there – right now. Under the best of circumstances, that is a difficult place to be.  The acne
    outbursts do not help either.  So in the best of scenarios where, let’s say, 10 negative points put you into
    the high stress region, that alone amounts for 5 of those 10 possible points.
  3. She is the Captain of the track team.  Let’s add 1 more stress point for that.
  4. She lost her dad to cancer at age 14.  Any loss at any time is horrific – can you even imagine what the loss of her father, at this critical stage of her life, does to this young woman?  And she is still trying to play the role of captain and leader?  How does one really do that effectively?   You seemed to suggest that she may not yet have mourned his passing. Let’s add another 3 stress points.   A conservative estimate puts your daughter at a 9 on a scale of 1 – 10.
  5. You also mentioned some swelling in the sternum area, and shortness of breath – plus an inability to complete her events.
    This tends to have a child question her own competencies.  Her team is expecting her to compete, compete well, and lead.  She feels incapable (at this time) – both physically and emotionally.  How does she tell herself that?  How does she tell her team?  How does she forgive herself?

My suggestion is that you get her to a specialist.  Try to find a kind, competent, male pediatric specialist dealing with activity and sport related injuries.  You seem to be an extremely competent mother.  This is evidenced in your ability to identify and list her potential challenges.  What your daughter needs is a kind, competent male specialist.  Her coach (if male) cannot do it.  He may be well-intended, and capable of understanding intellectually, but he has a track-meet to contest and win.  His job depends on it.  His ego depends on it.  His first reaction will probably be to suggest a relief from her responsibilities as Captain.  This actually does the reverse of what’s intended and places additional internal stress on the child.  This tends to be perceived as another failure.  She
may begin to develop an internal perception of herself as a failure.  Because of her strengths (as you identified them) this will more-than-likely not be shared with you.  So she will carry this pain by herself –  possibly leading to symptoms of depression.
Have your daughter checked-out physically first – a thorough check-up in critical.  At the same time the plan is the
development of the relationship between (a) herself and herself, and (b) herself and the doctor…with you guiding it.  Give
the doctor some insight on what’s going on.  Guide him as to the questions to ask.  He will be the first line to her therapeutic engagement.  If psychotherapy is deemed necessary – meaning that there is no evidence of a physiological reason for her chest pain – then have the doctor speak with her about it in your presence.  If you bring it up, she will reject it.  If he brings it up after a thorough evaluation (tests, et cetera) as part of the assessment and recommendation, there is a much
greater likelihood of compliance.

Good luck and thank you for your question.

Dr. Al

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This blog challenges you guys to really think about all that we’ve done and worked on to this moment – issues of diversity, race, the effect of media on self-identity, the disparity in incarceration rates, readings from The House on Mongo Street, and difficulties that the mentally and physically challenged face on a daily basis – and mix it into what’s going on at this very moment at our State Capitol…then place it in the context of Locus of Control. 

Take what you’ve learned, take what you’ve read, throw in what’s going on right now at the Capitol – – – and frame it within the context of Locus of Control.

Now, I’ll explain the concept “Locus of Control.”

Locus of Control is a psychological concept that “refers to an individual’s (or group’s) generalized expectation concerning where control over subsequent (life) events reside. In other words, who or what is responsible for what happens (to me).”   

Do I believe that I ultimately have control over my life – or – can a cop, judge, district attorney, professor, politician, priest decide my future?  That future may be arguing a grade (fairness), going to jail (freedom), getting in to a building (Delta just got fined 2.4 million), shooting me without regard or consequence (life), taking away my job and/or health care and/or benefits (future), or deciding who is more worthy than whom. 

Locus of Control may be internal (I have control over my own future) or external (I can yell as loudly as I want – they will do with me as they wish).

Let’s see some deep thoughtful discussion about this.  Please respond to and add to each other’s comments.

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In the continuing effort at popularizing my blog, I have begun the process of subscribing to others with similar emphasis. We’ll see if it works.  Here is a comment I posted on another blog this morning. Enjoy! 🙂

Listen ~ The move toward diversity is a business imperative. As the world shrinks and your market-population becomes more diverse, you will have to shift to accomodate that market. Remember – education is a product. The true challenge is recognize the market sector that you want to attract and delimit your conceptualization of “diversity” relative to that market. Why? Because you cannot be everything to everybody. If you do that, you run the risk of diversity meaning nothing to anybody. Have Fun!

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So we make the central focus of our intervention – suspensions.  Boy that’s stupid!  And, let’s just think of this for a second: You have half of your school suspended?   You mean that (a) somebody has to point that out to you, and (b) you still have a job?  Hmm!  If we follow that logic, it would suggest that suspending kids is considered “normal” for your school district or, at least, credible.  And that there has not been an uproar about it argues for either complicity on the part of the parents or an abject feeling of hopelessness.  If it is the latter, then why, as a parent, would you willingly send your child to school? It is evidently not about learning.  There is nothing that your child is learning.  On the other hand, maybe you are simply following the dictates of the government?  It is the law.  You have to.  So a suspension is actually a relief to you, your child, and the school.  Cynical but smart.  Real smart!

You ask why I say that.  Because the minute somebody shines a light on the issue, you become defensive and all of a sudden “something is being done about it!”  It’s like cockroaches – it takes the light being on to keep them away.  

And you decide that the way to deal with it is to examine the number of suspensions.  This suggests that you have no clue, and neither training nor interest in the population you have been placed to serve.    The minute somebody makes you accountable, you discover morality!

So, right now, what you are teaching these kids is of no relevance to their lives…to their everyday existence.  You have a system that is forcing them to go to a school that does not know them, does not care to know them, and is talking irrelevant crap at them everyday – all day.  And you expect them to do what?  You are doing pretty well at only half of the school suspended – Milwaukee, Palm Beach, wherever else.

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Sub-Head: Diversity and Disproportionality Report – Nov. 2010


The 1927 Oshkosh, Northwestern describes; “There were no slaves or other negroes in the county, no deaf and dumb, blind or insane persons, and no idiots.”  From the time Morris Firman established his first sawmill (1847), through its dramatic development as the primary source of lumber after the 1871 great fire of Chicago, the establishment of Oshkosh State Normal School to UW-Oshkosh, the rise and fall of Oshkosh B’Gosh, to today, the city of Oshkosh has seen tremendous growth in both its ethnic minority and lower-income populations.   

Oshkosh has traditionally been a “closed city.”  Adjectives like “quaint” and “simple”, “safe” and “traditional” would aptly describe its history.   Oshkosh is, and by extension, Oshkonians are steeped in tradition.  It would be safe to describe Oshkosh as a pretty conservative city.   People in Oshkosh revel in the, “I remember when” stories.  They tell their kids, and their kids tell their kids.  It is the tradition. Oshkosh can boast of particular ethnic festivals that have gone on for generations.  There are teachers in the District who are currently teaching the children of their former students.  The bus-lines stop at early evening.  This is the Oshkosh we all know and love.  This is the Oshkosh we defend.  This is the Oshkosh that is stuck.   

From a historically sleepy, manufacturing-driven, exclusively white, Midwestern city, Oshkosh’s demographics began a dramatic shift starting two decades ago.  The 1990 census placed Oshkosh with a registered population of 55,006 – the fourth largest city in Wisconsin.  Of this population, 347 (.6%) were identified African American (AA), 489 (.8%) Latino, and 1039 (2%) Asian – excluding Hmong and Laotian which accounted for 655 (1.1%) of the total population.   More recent 2000 census data placed Oshkosh’s total estimated population at 62,916 – now the eight largest city in Wisconsin.  Of this estimated population 1376 (2.2%) were identified AA – a four-fold increase, 1062 (1.7%) Latino, and 1908 (3.0%) Asian.  Hmong and Laotian now account for 1493 (2.4%) of the total estimated population. 

Census projections (2006) place the City of Oshkosh as eight-largest amongst Wisconsin cities with a population of 64,084 a 1.2% increase from 2004 census figures.  Oshkosh identifies 7.3% of its population as ethnic minority with 2.2% as African American (AA) or Black.  Only Milwaukee (37.3), Racine (20.3), Beloit (15.4), Kenosha (7.7), and Madison (5.8) show larger AA populations – Racine, Beloit, and Kenosha, smaller than Oshkosh: Milwaukee and Madison much larger.  Of cities with comparable numbers, Oshkosh holds the largest AA population.

The ethnic shift in the population is evident.  The data is pretty clear.  One question is “What event or chain of events occurred twenty years ago that has changed this ethnic landscape?”  The second issue will be to get a greater sense of this new population to understand how their participation/inclusion/presence has affected the fabric of Oshkosh – as we know it.

What event occurred?     

The Oshkosh Correctional expanded its bed capacity by 1,000 beds from 800 to 1,800.  This move invited a number of inmates from a variety of urban areas to be housed in this newly expanded facility.  As with any such expansion, a number of families were also drawn to the area, in part, to be close to their loved ones.  Oshkosh may have been neither friendly nor welcoming, but as one parent told me: “It safe, and that’s all I care about.”  Extended families soon followed (aunts, siblings, cousins, et cetera). 

What does that mean for the city?

These families were mainly lower and lower working class.  Not only did they bring an anxious browning to the city, but their socio-economic status placed a burden on an already struggling social system (health, education, transportation, police, et cetera).  The City of Oshkosh had to go through a grieving process that it was not ready for.  Like a moth going toward the promise of warmth and light of a newly expanded facility, Oshkosh did not anticipate that its wings might be singed. 

Concurrent with this population shift, Oshkosh was witnessing a dramatic loss of its manufacturing base which, historically, had been its main economic dam.  The maintenance and defense of a large lower-educated manufacturing-driven population works very well – until your manufacturing base exits…Stage right. 

Below gives an incomplete list of some of the businesses that have been lost to Oshkosh over the past decade.

  1. Oshkosh B’Gosh – closed
  2. Morgan Doors – downsized
  3. Park Plaza stores – closed
  4. Rockwell – downsized
  5. Radford Doors – closed
  6. Copps – closed
  7. Wallace Furniture – closed
  8. Rohners Furniture – closed
  9. Big Lots – closed

10.  Furniture Land – closed

11.  Leach Company – closed

12.  Circuit City – closed

13.  Wisconsin National Life – closed

14.  Wisconsin Automated Machinery – closed

15.  Square D – closed

16.  Kimberly Clark – downsized

17.  SNC Manufacturing – closed

J.E. Espino wrote about the changing economic climate.  He stated,

“The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics projects the fastest-growing occupations are in health care and technology.  Indeed, the case is partially bearing out in Wisconsin, evidenced by the top 25 jobs heading into 2009. The No. 1 occupation is nursing, followed closely behind personal home and care aides and home health aides.  A large number of these in-demand occupations do not command high wages, however. They are low-skills jobs that require short-term on-the-job training, such as food preparation, customer service and retail. Wisconsin has fallen on hard times. Its manufacturing sector has been devastated. Job losses topped more than 32,000 in the past 12 months, according to the state Department of Workforce Development.

In a January 18th, 2009 editorial in the Oshkosh Northwestern, Jeff Bollier wrote:

In the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Oshkosh-Neenah metropolitan statistical area, the number of health care and education workers in November was up 2.4 percent since the beginning of 2008 while employment in segments like trade, transportation and utilities; manufacturing and professional and business services have all declined 1.3 to 2.1 percent. Manufacturing and rural communities have been hit hard by layoffs. “In our region, we’ve seen the largest number of layoffs in manufacturing,” Welch said. “But a lot of middle managers and professionals whose companies may look to cut costs may lose their jobs, too.  It spans industries, but in the Fox Valley, the impact is still more directly on manufacturing and some retail, like restaurants.”

Oshkosh, therefore, saw a dramatic increase in its lower-class population both because of a loss of manufacturing jobs and an increase in immigration from more urban areas.  It should be noted that as people moved from manufacturing to the service industry, they not only moved from comfortable to lower-paying jobs, but many had to secure appropriate wardrobes…something that they never had to concern themselves with in their previous employ.


What we see, therefore, is a highly conservative, highly traditional, very White, simple town with a proud, strong history of manufacturing that has lost a significant number of low-skilled, well-paying jobs over the past 18 years.  Some of these jobs have been replaced by lower-paying, more customer oriented, service industry positions.  Some have not.  During this period both the population and ethnic diversity of the population have grown.  This “new” population tended to be lower and working-class urban dwellers with high rates of single parenthood, low rates of employment, and low rates of academic readiness and skill. Let us first look at the educational attainment of our population.

Can the Oshkosh community absorb this new population?

To be able to absorb a new population, a community must have a thriving middle-class.  Let us examine this question more closely. 

Educational Attainment:

The Encyclopedia of Sociology Summary suggests, “One of the main reasons education is valued so highly is the role it plays in relation to social mobility.”  If we consider education as the major path toward social mobility, a review of Oshkosh’s population vis-à-vis its educational attainment would offer us some insight into its capacity to absorb these immigrants. It is widely accepted that a more educated population would offer greater buffering of our current economic downfall and greater readiness for subsequent upturns in our economy.  What is Oshkosh’s current status?

2000 census figures suggest that Oshkosh’s 25 years and over population stood at 38,496.  Of this population, 71% held no higher than a high school (including equivalency) diploma.  Only 23.1% of Oshkosh’s population held at least a bachelor’s degree.  Six percent held associate (two-year) degrees.  Just over 79% of Oshkosh’s residents were born in-state.  This suggests relatively low mobility of residents. 

A review of data for larger cities, including other cities in the valley, “percent bachelor’s degree or higher” reveal; Milwaukee (18.3), Madison (48.2), Racine (15.6), Appleton (29.7), Fond Du Lac (19.0), Eau Claire (28.9), Green Bay (19.3).  This data suggests that, of the four major valley cities, Oshkosh has the second-highest “percent bachelor’s degree or higher” population at 23.1%. 

Any increase in lower educated population would simply draw 23.1% figure down.  As noted before, a low-educated population draws heavily on the social service structure of any community. 


State mobility can be a two-edged sword.  From one perspective communities that retain high percentages of their birth population tend to have strong community histories, and traditions.  There is a social understanding of how one is accepted as a member of that community.  Conversely, these communities tend to be highly resistant to change.  Developmental shifts take longer to become accepted.   A population-retention rate of 79% suggests that a very large portion of Oshkonians grew-up, went to school, found jobs, brought up their children, and remained pretty-much within the city for their entire lives.  Some may have left to be educated eventually returning to the city.  I suspect that many current teachers can share stories of having taught the parents of their pupils.  The circle remains unbroken.  Oshkosh can be described as beautifully traditional and slow to shift.  It will take very long for the Oshkosh community to embrace their new classmates, workmates, neighbors…

It is commonly thought that building a university within a community may help assuage the potential for incestual thinking and hiring processes.  This may be so, but only if the university is able to attract and retain relatively high numbers of students and faculty from outside the area – different state and/or country.  Universities tend to be the community’s arms that extend beyond the confines of the city.  They are the ones who chart the course…who lead the way for the community.  If a university simply satisfies the needs of the community, it runs the risk of keeping the community stagnant.  A healthy tug must exist between the academic environment and the community for change to take place.  Without that discomfort, there is limited potential for growth.  

As an example: Let us say that the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh has a strong Teacher Education program, however,  the vast majority of the teachers being educated within that program come from the City of Oshkosh.  There are two ways to advance the Teacher Education (TE) program to a level of growth, competitiveness, and readiness for 21st century challenges.  One way would be to ensure that the TE program keeps a variety of visiting professors from similar programs all over the country.  The constant flow of new thoughts, ideas, and research interests tend to create and maintain vibrancy in the program.  Another way would be to institute a mandatory semester-long internship experience in dissimilar cultural environments (other countries or states).  This way, students become immersed in cultures and experiences alien to their own.  This expands learning.

Demographic Changes:

We had spoken earlier about the increases both in population and diversity of the population of Oshkosh over the past decade.  Let us review where this population has come from.  In this section we will also examine why the increase in population, as well as answer the question posed earlier: “Does this new population lend to our middle-class thereby accenting our financial solvency, or does it draw from it adding to our un- or under-employment?”  

Over the past decade, Oshkosh has seen a dramatic shift in its ethnic minority population (see above), the majority of whom are both low-educated and low-skilled.  A number of reasons have been offered for this ethnic minority population increase.  These include: 

  1. Oshkosh has been designated a “safe city” welcoming five (5) Sudanese families from the devastating circumstances in Dafur.
  2. Oshkosh is one of the primary settlement areas for Hmong (Southeast Asian) families (655 to 1493) although many have moved further North in the Fox Valley.
  3. The Winnebago Correctional Institute, established approximately 20 years ago, has drawn a large, diverse, heavily AA population to the city (347 to 1374).    
  4. A number of extended relatives from the initial group (see “c” above) have moved into the city to find a place of “safety” for themselves and their children.   The AA population has almost quadrupled over the past decade.
  5. A few families, displaced by Katrina, have found sanctity within the city.
  6. There has been a dramatic Latino immigration into the state.  One would expect that this increase would be reflected in many of the larger cities – Oshkosh being one.  

Lower education and high immigration coupled with a loss of manufacturing jobs have all contributed to Oshkosh’s current situation.   The totality of these shifts have had the effect of swelling the ranks of the lower- and working class, and placing an additional stress on the already over-burdened social, educational, and economic structure of the city.  SAFETY VERFSUS CONTROL.

Education System:

The Oshkosh educational system is comprised of the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh (UWO), the Fox Valley Technical College, the Unified Catholic Schools, Oshkosh Christian & Valley Christian and the Oshkosh Area School District (OASD).  There are a few early primary programs that exist.  UWO is the third largest university in the state with a total enrollment of 12,700 students.  OASD educates over 10,500 students in 16 elementary, five middle, two high, and six charter schools. Some of these schools, primarily those serving disadvantaged populations, have since been closed – the affected students housed at different facilities.    

The system continues to struggle.  The educational structure of the city has not shifted to prepare (a) for the loss of manufacturing, nor (b) the change in demographics.

  1. The University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh (UW-O) continues to be the main training and recruiting ground for teachers within the city. 

These teachers have not been readied to work with this population.  They are simply ill-prepared, and are being interned and mentored by senior teachers who, themselves, have little or no didactic training to work with this population.  This is less an indictment of the teaching staff as it is of the lack of readiness of the Teacher Education program at a number of these Universities.  UW-O is not singular in this challenge.

  1. Very few of the OASD’s academic and support staff have had didactic and/or practical training in working with a diverse population.

Conducting a one or two-day conference or seminar in Diversity does little to shift teacher readiness to work with this population.  This is so for a number of reasons including:

  • Diversity is not mechanical like learning a new computer program is.  That means that you cannot take a map or a GPS home and follow the instructions.
  • Any long-lasting change, human or animal, demands extended emersion and opportunities for practice in the environment. 
  • These conferences tend to be populated by those teachers who already reside in the top percentile of readiness.  You are practically singing to the choir.
  • The onus lies on those few to go back to their respective school districts and move the un-readied and oftentimes resistant masses.
  • These changes take a lot of time and concerted effort.  Particularly in these times of limited resources, this brings great anger, resentment, and resistance.  
  1. The school district, as is true for the University and the City, lacks diversity within its academic staffing pool.   There are no teachers of color.  Recruitment efforts (to date) have met with little success.

It is difficult to attract people to a restaurant that people do not know exists, or has a negative reputation.  It is not that Oshkosh had a negative reputation per say, but its history and demographics tend toward a negative perception.  Additionally, the attending University has done such a poor job of recruitment and retention of students of color that the messages shared by those students within that community are not very encouraging.  Additionally, the Oshkosh community is starved for comfortable bridges that would attract and retain teachers of color.  In short, there is nothing here.    

  1. The City of Oshkosh remains unattractive to more educated, middle-class Blacks.  Any Black staff that is recruited will probably not stay very long.

The options for a middle-class Black are not here.  Even if that person wants to work and retreat, there are very few islands of emotional safety for a Black professional to do that.  What occurs is a calculated decision to “hang in there” until that person’s resume is built and/or more comfortable opportunities are afforded.  This occurs more consistently with more capable, and therefore more marketable, recruits.  This is the essence of the “revolving door” syndrome.


The Oshkosh School District has recently been cited for the disproportional representation of ethnic minority students in Special Education.  This means that relative to their percentage in the population, AA children are over-represented in the Special Education programs.  This is particularly true for Cognitive Disabilities (CD) and Emotional and Behavioral Disability (EBD).  

A number of reasons have been offered as explanations for the disproportionality.   Before listing some of the explanations, it should be noted that OASD is not singular in this challenge.  Many, if not most, of the school districts across the country share a similar affliction.  This disproportional overrepresentation of Blacks in the country’s CD and EBD programs is paralleled in our vast prison complex.  One can make a comfortable argument that low rates of academic success (high placement in CD and EBD) are inversely proportional to the rates of incarceration.  If you see a population where the rate of academic success is low, you can expect the rate of incarceration to be high.  The classroom to jail pipeline is not a misnomer.

Gloria Latson-Billings writes:

African American students continue to lag significantly behind their white counterparts on all standard measures of achievement. African American children are three times as likely to drop out of school as white children are and twice as likely to be suspended from school.  The high school dropout rate in New York is about 35% and California the rate nears 50 percent. African American students make up only about 17 percent of the public school population but 41 percent of the special-education population. pg. 2

Recent data from our own District demonstrate the challenge.  AA suspension rates at Merrill Middle sit at 47%, Webster 27.8%, North 25.4%, West 19.25%. 

Why are we seeing this disproportional representation?

  1. One of the major reasons is the posture from which we perceive this population.  We, the collective “us”, see AA children and families in pejorative terms – as deficient, deprived, deviant, culturally disadvantaged (Billings, 1998).   They are, in short, lacking in support, guidance and training.  As we engage with this population from a deficit model, our emphasis is to move these families/children to become “more like us.”  Our biggest challenge, however, is that “we have never learned them.”  We have learned AA as deficient and devoid…not different and unique. Again, this is not singular to Oshkosh.  This is a world-wide phenomenon.  The images of AAs that we have been bathed in are, for the most part, negative or less-than.  Know too, that there is no bias to the internalization of these images.  African Americans also hold many of these learned images of themselves and others like them.    What happens, therefore, is that it is easier to apportion high numbers of AA students into CD or EBD.
  2. Lack of institutionalization of response to intervention (RTI).

The Wikipedia defines RTI as “a method of academic intervention used in the United States which designed to provide early, effective assistance to children who are having difficulty learning.”  In a practical sense, prior to a school principal accepting and supporting any referral for testing, teachers must have evidence of progressive efforts taken, and levels of success met having employed those interventions, in support of that child’s learning.  This is no consistency to this. As such, both teachers and administrators can comfortably thwart the initiative by simply waiting it out.

  1. Lack of training in working with this population.

Very few teachers and administrators have been trained to work with this growing population. In fact, there is a popular perception that education is education regardless of population dynamics.  This is less an indictment of the teachers, and more of the university systems that produce them.  The current university system does not service our current needs.   

  1. Difficulty in getting a baseline on many of these students.

A large percentage of our incoming students arrive with either no data or inadequate data for the school district to make educated decisions.  

  1. Student mobility.

It is not uncommon for students to arrive or leave the district during the any given semester.  Without a central office that funnels all these midterm incoming students, it is difficult to establish focus, maintain focus, or for incoming students and families to learn the expectation of this new academic environment.   

  1. Poor assessment tools.

Because of high mobility and traumatic family lives, many of these children are delayed academically.  This is where the popular term “street wise “comes in.  These children are educated…but they are educated relative to the needs of their environment.  We are testing and pathologizing them relative to the requirement of our cultural environment.  This is more a social issue than a race issue; however, it is a fact that African Americans are disproportionately represented in that lowest rung of the American social ladder. 

  1. Lack of checks and balances. 

For much of this (above) to be dealt with, there must be a person in central office whose job is to monitor this flow.  That role is, at best, inadequately performed.  Principals are, therefore, left to their own authority, experience, and wisdom.  This results in inconsistent application of mandates. 

Disproportionality will continue to be a challenge for us here at OASD.  

As noted earlier, these challenges are not unlike those of any growing city or metropolis.  Ours is a bit unique because of the history behind our growth in diversity, the speed of that growth, and the popular perceptions of that growth.  Those three things taken in combination with our increases in unemployment and under-employment, anxiety because of current local and regional economies, and a feeling of being unprepared for these dramatic changes, makes for a stressful situation.  You marry this with teachers who have not been trained to work with this new population – and you begin to understand “Oshkosh today.” 

Oshkosh must grieve this shift.  It is natural.  It is expected.  The challenge is that no city grieves at the same time or at the same rhythm – so that while on part of Oshkosh may be in resolution, another part may be in disbelief, and yet another in anger.  The question is how do you move an entire city through a natural grieving process while not everyone is on the same page?  Think of it as a car that you’re trying to drive through some mud.  Some are pushing forward.  Some are pushing back.  Some are sitting with arms crossed refusing to help.  This is Oshkosh’s challenge. 

Training Our Teachers and Administrators.

One of the popular and frequently articulated charges against the lack of success of our now nine-year invasion of Iraq, was that we lacked of knowledge of the history and culture of the people of that region.  You recall that we were struggling to find interpreters.  We entered a prolonged engagement without knowing the population.   Think of any private cooperation (Nissan, Sony, Craftsman, Millers etc.) trying to break into any foreign market (Latin America, Africa, China) without first learning the language and the culture.  That would be unacceptable.  We didn’t break in.  This population came to us – – – because of choices we made.  I understand there were financial “imperatives” but (a) that is just a word that means we didn’t process the decision very well, and (b) we made them.  We made the decision.   

Part of our challenge in Oshkosh is that “Our teachers, administrators included, are working without knowing.”   We have entered an engagement without knowing the population.  That is unacceptable…or it should be!  But we do not have a training port.

Teachers/Administrators do not train themselves, so the contention that the blame for not knowing or not being educated about culture and cultural differences, rests singly with them is misguided.  However, the responsibility for not knowing does.  Malleability of learning and willingness to learn, coupled with the sloth of the revolution in teaching makes change difficult.  Consider that many teachers stay in their posts from 20 – 30 years.  Yes, there is a credit expectation for licensure – but there are few (if any) checks on level, content, intensity, or relevance.   I do hope that the recently enacted PI-34 helps us in this area.

This process of learning and understanding a culture makes “perfect” sense to us when used in the context of an invasion, or sales.  It is unfortunate that this posture is not as globally acknowledged and shared when it comes to education.  There is such resistance to the admission of a need to “learn the culture” if we expect to successfully market the product called “Education” to any population.  Education is a product.  If you want to sell it…learn the culture of the population you want to sell it to. 

Social Circumstance and Race:

The relationship between social circumstance and race is of great import in this discussion.  It is true that the vast majority of AA immigrants to the city fall within the lower socio-economic strata.   It is also true that our lowest socioeconomic populations demand a disproportionate percentage of our social services.

The percentage of our AA students that satisfy requirements for “Free and/or Reduced” (F&R) lunch is quite high.  Current estimates place it at 63% of total AA school population.  If we argue that there is a very high correlation between eligibility for F&R and poverty – then, as a percentage of its population, Oshkosh does not have a Black middle-class.  There are so few AAs within what might be termed “the middle-class” that as a percentage of total population (or AA population) it would be insignificant.  This means that the majority of Oshkosh’s African American population is poor. 

What this means is that “race” in the context of our community, is weaved very tightly in with “poverty.” There are no counterbalancing forces.  Poverty in our community is a legitimate conversation relative to the success of our students, but not to the rejection or discard of race.  They are tightly wound, intimately partnered, but not the same.

As one, well-meaning, social worker shared;

“Poverty, Poverty, Poverty!  That really is a main issue that I see here at XXX.  And how that poverty affects the lack of motivation, disinterest in planning for the future/goal setting, valuing of education……”

Yes, there is poverty – and that is debilitating, but there are equally insidious inter- and intra-perceptions of race that are just as debilitating.  And there is that term “education” that is conceptualized from a middle class perspective and totally foreign to the realities of our population living in poverty.  Ninety percent of the energy and effort exerted by populations in poverty is centered around meeting low-level Maslownian needs (food, safety, housing).  In the sphere of education, therefore, you cannot advance a person, or a culture, beyond where they can actually see, or dream.  There is little connection between your teaching higher level math skills or Spanish, or world geography if the skills to become a joiner or plumber, or carpenter are more readily accessible to my reality.

An additional challenge to social circumstance is that a large portion of our current AA population is immigrant.  Very few were born in Oshkosh, or even the Midwest.  A recent conversation with eight (8) middle school AA children revealed that none was born in Oshkosh.   Two (2) were from the Wausau, one (1) from Milwaukee, one (1) from Chicago, one (1) from Ohio, one (1) from Virginia, one  (1) Indiana, and one (1) from Louisiana.  None attended elementary school here.   Although these children share ethnic similarities, they are culturally very different – not unlike a Texan from a Minnesotan. 

How do these children engage each other while attempting to learn from a model that emphasizes deficits?  

Laying Down New Tracks:

Because of learning, experiences shared, stories told, media reports, et cetera, each of us lays down tracks.  These are mental rail-tracks, not unlike a string of lights on a Christmas tree.  When one light anywhere on the string is lit, they all turn on.  As each of us continues his/her process of learning and development, these tracks become more and more ingrained. 

These tracks are not necessarily one’s own experiences.  Our survival as a species depends on our ability to learn from others successes and misfortunes.  These tracks are also not race specific.  This means that races learn about other races through shared stories, books, television shows, movies, neighbors et cetera.  When there is little engagement or experience to counter those learned stories, they become real.  These prejudices are fed in the multitude of comfortable conversations we have with “others like us.”  They become engrained and subconscious.   

These prejudices are neither overt nor unnecessary.  They are automatic.  They are learned.  Think of when you first learned to drive a car and how trying that was.  Think of your level of active concentration.  Think of your current state of automaticity.  You do not think of it…unless, of course, you drive a vehicle that you are less accustomed to.  Unless, or course, you had that one glass of wine too many!  Your behaviors move out of that “track” of automaticity.  You have to concentrate.  You have to think. 

The recognition of the ability to impose power or have power imposed upon is more powerful that the actual imposition of that power.”

There are clearly behaviors in our children that prejudice learning.  Our challenge is to recognize these behaviors, help these children learn that they are contraindicated in this environment, help them unlearn them while laying down new tracks.  This is a lot to ask our teachers when a child arrives in the middle of 8th grade with a 4th grade learning.   You cannot ask a teacher to recognize, yet ignore why a child has come to Oshkosh in the first place.   How do you engage in it and use this as part of your data, yet not make decisions based on it?  Do you ask the teacher to ignore it?  Is the teacher being racist?

This is being asked while our entire school district soaks in the anxiety of the flood of this new population…without learning…without experience, in the middle of budget cuts, a sagging economy, coupled with increasing job losses and poverty, and a heavily conservative school board.   Yeah – and do all this while rubbing your tummies.  This is tough. 

 Attracting and Retaining Diversity:

Our inability to attract ethnic minority principals and teachers to our district does add to our challenge.

  • Ethnic minority principals and teachers are, in large part, members of the social middle class.   Regardless of race or ethnic group, people within the social middle class tend more toward comfort than safety.  (Check your Maslownian hierarchy) External relationships, community, leisure time and activities tend to take greater precedent in the lives of the middle class.  Our kids play soccer, or take dance lessons.  Middle class Blacks are not coming to “save you” particularly since you have nothing there for them.  This is Marketing 101.  
  • Another part of our challenge is that Oshkosh is not a well-known community.  It is less likely that people would come to places that they don’t know, or have negative internalized perceptions of.    This is Marketing 102. None of you is going to drive down Gary Indiana and step out your car.  Not one! 
  •  Part of our challenge is that “we have none, so none will come.”  It is difficult in 2010, where options exist, to ask someone to accept the mantle of “pioneer” – without promise or reward.   What are you offering that would make someone pause and give consideration?  Why should I consider moving from my community of comfort, even for a three-year stint, to come to work in your community? 

Remember that the AA who come here do not do so because you have a strong economic base, or a burgeoning university, or vibrant night life.  As one parent shared; “I know they don’t like me, but this place is safe.”  Oshkosh offers safety relative to Chicago, Cincinnati, Milwaukee, New Orleans…not comfort!

Below offers four of the main reasons we are having trouble attracting ethnic minority teachers.   

  1. Most animals tend to commune.  If there is no community, it is unlikely that any will remain.  The old saying “If there is none – there will be none” explains it very nicely.  Cultural barrenness.  There is no place of leisure or comfort for AAs in Oshkosh.  There are a few make-shift churches, no radio programs, no shops, no barber or beauty salons…no places to safely convene – and a high percentage of your population want to keep it that way.  They are looking at “safety” and “how it used to be.”  There is nothing you can say that will shift that emotional truth.  It is much easier to maintain the language and rhetoric of change for the cameras, than it is to actually move that boulder.  This is as it is for UW-O, Fond Du Lac, Green Bay, UW-Madison, the Madison Metropolitan School District…  As Michael Jackson once sang; “You are not alone!”   
  2. Oshkosh is unknown.  Advertisement of Oshkosh.  A greater percentage of academics must know where Oshkosh is.  Oshkosh must market itself. What is UW-O known for?  What academic or social advantages do I accrue having graduated from UW-O?  “You have a nationally recognized what program???”
  3. Given high demand coupled with low supply…why come here?  African American teachers are a hot commodity.  What is there here by way of emotional support, financial remuneration…that will draw them from their comfort zones?  Promise and Reward.  You must offer a reason to come and a reason to remain – at least for “X” number of years.   “So I’m coming from my warm Atlanta, Florida, Texas…to this cold place I’ve never heard of because?????”
  4. There are no AA teachers in the pipeline.  None of the University of Wisconsin Madison, Whitewater, Oshkosh, nor Marian University can identify one AA student in its Teacher Education program.  If the University is able to attract, recruit, and retain more ethnic minorities (AA) there will be a better story, a greater history, and greater retention.  “So you’re not even successful at preparing plants in your own back yard???”

The ease with which I offer interventions 1, 2, 3, and 4 belie the difficulty in the actual performance.  Each has its difficulty.   Each has its challenge.

Our larger and more immediate challenge, therefore, is educating the staff that we do have along with the staff that is coming to us.  I would argue that the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh, which stands as our major recruiting vein, is severely compromised relative to keeping up with the demands of our culture. 


First we have to recognize that the teaching of AA students by AAs is a fallacy.  It is important to have AA models, and have AA teachers, but the learning of AA students does not depend on our successfully recruiting AA teachers.  The success in our educating AA students is heavily dependent on our educating our staff.  This is our major problem.  We have uneducated staff.  We have uneducated administrators.  We have challenges in our executive body. 

We have not made the necessary moves to (a) acknowledge it as a different culture, (b) learn and teach about the new culture, and (c) shift our hiring process toward a heavy emphasis on those who have been trained in working with the new culture.     

I am not saying that this is easy.   I am saying is that this is primary. 

“What is being done, what successes have been made, and what still need to be done?”

These questions will be addressed later.

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AA Success

The social and academic success of African American (AA) students within our current educational system continues to be an elusive goal. Social success deals with the idea of being wanted in the environment – the belief that you actually matter.  Academic success is the A, B, Cs – the appropriate matriculation through the system.  In any environment, the academic and social should be closely partnered. There is a convincing positive correlation between social engagement and academic success for all students.  This suggests that students who feel comfortably accepted in their environment tend to perform better academically. 

There is huge difference between being comfortably accepted and attempting to be accepted, or attempting to belong.  Current data demonstrates that AA students who aggressively “attempt to belong” show lower levels of academic success than those who do not.  It would suggest therefore, that part of ethnic minority student lack of success may lie in the amount of energy focused toward the polar opposites of engagement or disengagement from the social environment to the predominantly white institution (PWI).  Notice, I am not talking about the act of engagement or non-engagement, but the amount of energy employed in the process…energy that may be better spend on academic pursuits. Students who actively and aggressively alienate themselves from the predominantly white environment as well as those who try to fully engage seem to be less successful than those negotiate between those two poles.  

Many reasons have been put forward as part-explanations for the high drop-out/stop-out rates of AAs at PWIs.  These include financial insolvency, feelings of marginalization, low academic preparedness, coming from single-parent or broken homes, et cetera.  It is also true that despite these challenges, many AA students are successful.  The question, from a strengths-perspective becomes; “What factors can be identified as responsible for success in this population?”

Felice (2006) interviewed 10 first-generation, sophomore, AA male students at a Midwestern PWI, to determine the skills that each indentified as responsible for his success.  Students were interviewed independently.  Themes were then drawn from each interview and collapsed.

Results indicated that successful male AA students;

  1.  found/created social enclaves within the environment of the university,
  2. only engaged with the university to get specific needs satisfied,
  3. retained very close ties with their home environment (parents and/or friends),
  4. suggested that they saw themselves as representatives of friends, family, or cultural group that did not have that opportunity, and
  5. were committed to a sense of deferred gratification – each was going through current discomfort for a better tomorrow.  

The creation of social enclaves and the strong retention of ties to home and family, run counter to Tinto’s (1997) assertion that students who transition successfully invest time and energy in attempting to assimilate into the larger culture.  Successful AA students find a safe space.

This study does not reject Tinto’s findings.  It simply suggests that this may not be the process for successful AA students at PWIs.  If AA students do not see the potential for reward in their efforts to engage they would, quite justifiably, find spaces of emotional security until better could be done. We may, therefore, consider creating the environment for the development of these social enclaves.

In another study looking at AA versus White students’ feelings of connection to the university, Felice (2009) found that;

  1. 51% of White students interviewed indicated that they attend sporting and other University events versus 8.8% of Black students
  2. 67% of White students indicated that they wear their school colors around campus versus 21% of Black students
  3. 97% of White students felt themselves very connected to the University versus 62% of Black students, and
  4. 72% of White students identified themselves as a (mascot name placed here) through and through versus 25% of Black students.

It is interesting to note that despite feelings of disconnect, 40% of Black respondents suggested that they would consider giving money back to the University versus 49% of White.  Additionally, of the population interviewed, only 14% of White students identified themselves as first-generation versus 55% of Black students. This is of particular interest because a very different posture must be taken in engaging first generation students versus second-generation students – despite ethnicity.

Readiness for Academic Engagement:

There is also the concept of readiness for academic engagement – and the social culture that that perception breeds on campus. 

It is true that many of our AA students do not enter colleges and universities with the necessary level academic skill acquisition and academic competence as determined by the accepting institution. 

  1. This is many.  This is not all.  Many and all are two very different words, and as there is no way to identify the difference within the institution it raises everybody’s anxiety.
  2. This is also very true of many white students.  Yet it is not accompanied by the anxiety of the null hypothesis.
  3. Although the numbers of under-academically prepared white students is probably much higher than Black students, the percentages are much lower.  For example: If we have twenty out of one-hundred AA students under-prepared (20%), that is a much higher percentage than the three hundred out of ten thousand white students (3%). 
  4. This truth and perception leads to inter- and intra-anxiety amongst AA students and how they perceive themselves to be perceived by whites and each other. You begin to observe these students separating “themselves from themselves” on campus.  There is a lack of acknowledgement of each other in classes and on campus.

This separation of self from self is what I call the “Affirmative Action baby” syndrome.  It seems as if AA students, particularly males, are saying to themselves: “I am not an Affirmative Action baby.  You may be.” This area needs more research.

Notice we are talking about the emotional anxiety around the perception of academic preparedness.  The question therefore is “How do we shift that perception?” Given that perceptions are very well defended (stubborn), our positive changes must be aggressively marketed.

Demanding a Better Product…or Else:

Last time I checked, academic readiness for full inclusion into our environment was the forte of the high schools.  It is from these high schools that we draw our product. If the quality of the product is not as we would wish, we have four options.

  1. We accept the product.  Once we accept the product, knowing that it has deficits, it is our responsibility to fill those gaps. We have accepted the responsibility.
  2. We demand a better product from our wholesalers.  We do have the choice here of engaging in the preparation of the product, relative to our needs.
  3. We expand our recruiting umbrella.  In this instance, we search-out and create relationships with competing wholesalers. We no longer offer our current wholesalers the comfort of sending us sub-quality products.
  4. We establish our own wholesale producers.  In this instance, we actually establish a high school which meets the requirements for full inclusion into our environment.    

Inclusive Excellence:

The question becomes: “How do we attain a sense of inclusivity while retaining academic excellence?”  This will be the topic of another piece.

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Unless we re-conceptualize education and recognize that we have populations and sub-populations that are delayed within the twentieth century…we will continue to struggle.

Unless we acknowledge that any education system is designed to support the requirements of the culture – as described by the dominant group…we will continue to struggle. 

Unless we come to grips with the fact that education has shifted from a process of learning to a process of readying for employment…we will continue to struggle. 

Unless we allow some level of privatization of our education (K-12) system allowing for greater challenge to our current poor-accountability system…we will continue to struggle.

Until we acknowledge that a two-day training seminar on an emotionally pregnant issue such as race does absolutely nothing to shift anybody’s level of readiness…we will continue to struggle.  

Until we realize that higher education is a business and all the rhetoric of multiculturalism, and diversity, and inclusive excellence does nothing until you show me how the shift is going to benefit my company financially…we will continue to struggle.

Until we quit recycling the same song and dance and the same singers and dancers…we will continue to struggle.

Until we make a concerted effort to search for competence (if we know how to define and recognize it) rather than comfort (to make us feel safe)…we will continue to struggle.

Until we truly acknowledge that we are struggling and quit the stories of whose fault it is, and realize that we are nearing the water mark…we will continue to struggle. 

Finally ~ the chat and the rhetoric are all good; the meetings and the seminars are all good; the marching and the placards are all good – but every time we exit the room there is a strong scent of urine that nobody wants to clean-up.  That’s okay.  We seem to have lived with it a long time.  We could put some Febreeze on it, or just ignore it, or hide it with a flower pot.  We seem to be pretty comfortable as…we continue to struggle.

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